Overwhelmed newbie - could use some help and solidarity!

divamum(7)August 24, 2007

Hi all -

I posted here briefly a couple of years ago immediately after we moved to our house in Maryland, but Real Life intervened and I never really got to grips with the yard (although I hope the kind souls who sent me private messages received my replies - I was so grateful for the warm welcome!)

In any case, this summer has been the first chance I've really had to start addressing this long-neglected jungle. We're in the plannign stages of a larger remodel which includes a new deck and porch repair as well as some internal work so, since I had the whole summer off this year, I've had time to work on the garden (such as it is) as well.

And I am now THOROUGHLY overwhelmed! My only prior gardening experience was tending a long-established and easy maintenance cottage-style garden in Europe, and starting from scratch - less than scratch, in fact, since we're having to clear before we can even consider planting! - is proving... daunting.

In any case, I would welcome suggestions. This climate around Baltimore county is not always the most plant-friendly (except, it seems for Rose of Sharon bushes and some vine-weed-thing which grows faster than we can cut it down!), and I'm using this time to research as much as possible so that I plant things which will be (relatively) low maintenance as well as ornamental :)

Here are the two areas I'm currently working on:

Side yard with the ugliest fence EVER. It was covered in ivy, poison ivy and Nameless Fast Growing Vine, which my neighbour and I have spent all summer Rounding Up, pulling, and removing. The small maple just visible has been dug up and given to my builder (there are two others just out of shot - trees are something we do NOT need more of!). My hope is to plant a bs-resistant, repeat-blooming climbing rose there, although today I noted with some horror that the afternoon shadow from next door moves across earlier than I realised. However, I'm willing to give New Dawn, Cecile Brunner or the Knockout-relative "Brite Eyes" a try and see how we go. Any other suggestions?

This photo shows the REALLY overwhelming patch. Until a week ago, it was entirely covered in 6ft high of the brush you can see just behind the fence; we're NEARLY down to the ground on both sides of the fence - I think one more batch of pulling and clearing should do it. The good news is that the newly-exposed ground(up against the neighbour's fence) is GLORIOUS soil where the weeds have mulched it down for years (and I think they're might have been another tree there at some poing since there's evidence of stumps); unlike the rest of the rocky, clay-y, sand-y soil around here, this is deep, rich soft dirt that looks (to the newbie eye) like compost. I'm again cosidering a climbing rose that can mask that awful fence and screen us fom the back alley (maybe Clair Matin or, perhaps something bigger like New Dawn -t he land behind the fence is ours too, so it doesn't matter if we spread out a bit) but am starting to wonder what on earth to put there as well.

I was considering either a burning bush or crape myrtle in the corner to help raise the eye and even out the site visually, a Limelight hydrangea (just purchased on sale for half price - it needs a home!) just to the left of the Rose of Sharon, some peonies near the front/middle, some cinquefoil (how tall does it get round here?), some daylilies by the gate, a couple of red or pink Knockout rose bushes just cuz I love roses and I know they'll survive and...? I have azaleas in the front so I'm not necessarily keen to "shrub up" back here, but easy care does remain a top priority.

Thanks so much for reading this long post, and for any ideas. This is an amazing web resource!

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avoirgold(z7 MD)

Whew! You have quite a job ahead of you. Speaking from experience, take it one step at a time. I moved into a 1970 house with NOTHING except overgrown yews, junipers, and arborvitaes as well as 30+ azaleas.

Daylilies are an excellent choice. For full sun, butterfly bush, monarda (aggressive), phlox, agastache, penstemon, and shasta daisy do very well and are very low maintenance (once established :-)

Also, if you are available, try to make our fall swap. (9/29) You will see what people have extras of, even with the drought this year.

Hope that helps!


    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 9:50AM
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Thanks so much Jen - yes, it is most definitely A Big Job, especially for a newbie. I certainly have no history of having a green thumb, so I don't even know if things will actually grow for me, but I'm hoping that a lot of research, and a little luck may help me out some :)

I will confess I had two college lads start the clearing in that back fence area - it really was 6ft high, we have no power tools (everything we've done has been with scissor-type hedge clippers and elbow grease!) and it was 90 degrees so I figured it was worth it! Once they managed to get it so it was simply "very very bad" it wasn't quite as daunting.

And I made more progress today - my husband cleared and bagged everything I've torn down and that back patch is actually almost-entirely clear! Whoosh. I was encouraged enough that I threw down some Leafgro into the spot next to the gate in the pic above and transplanted some rather sad looking lilies which are over-shaded along the side of the house; we'll see if they make it! I'm going to sneak out later and get some Stella d'oros I saw at Lowes too - yeah, I prefer to buy from a nursery, but they were cheap and actually looked quite nice. It'll start filling the space, at least and it gave me a reason to mulch down the weeds in that little bit (plus I used some of the pile of stones I picked out of the "soil" - I use the term loosely - to make a little edge. I just needed to do ONE THING which had some kind of visual reward!). I'm still debating what to do to the right of the Rose of Sharon - I'm tempted to raise the bed on the left hand side and blend it in somehow, but what on earth do I know about building a wall?!?!? lol

Anyway, I'm DEFINITELY interested in the swap - where is it? How does it work? (I'll search the archive as well since I'm sure this question has come up before, but any and all info welcomed :)

Btw, I've been asking on the rose forum, but any other Bawlmor'uns have any opinions on disease-resistant roses for these here parts? I really love the old varieties and, as mentioned, am keen to cover those fences. I've been steered totwards New Dawn, Cecile Brunner cl and Brite Eyes (by the same guy who created the Knockouts), but other suggestions are definitely welcomed.

As for any other perennials I can put in there (in particular things that would love to Cover The Fence).

Also, I've heard that lavender is a bit tricky in this climate - is it possible to grow it as a perennial without lots of winter maintenance/protection etc?

Thanks again so much - every time I've visited the Gardenweb forums I've been awed by the knowledge and kindness of the folks who post here, and this time is no exception!

PS Oh, and if I'm sounding like I'm "trying to go fast" I'm not, really - I'm expecting this to take a while - I but I know already that my job will be keeping me busy AND taking me out of town in the spring, so I'm trying to get as much done in the autumn planting season when I have a little more time available. :)

    Bookmark   August 26, 2007 at 4:58PM
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rhetrx(z7 MD)

I moved to Baltimore this spring, to a 90X125 lot that hadn't really seen a spade in 30 years [the house itself is from 1880]. Clay soil, Tree-of-Heaven, Rose of Sharon, and lawn, lawn, lawn.

The nice folks at the recent Daylily Society sale were very helpful with suggestions, and I'm busy amending the soil with Leafgro when the weather allows...

About the lavender: I see it growing really nicely in my area of town, which makes me think my neighbors have been doing a lot of soil amending, since i don't think lavender is all that fond of clay and beach pebbles...


    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 4:47PM
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FYI, I have a Cecile Brunner rose bush and it's tough! I've had mine for 10 years, it grows in part sun/shade and it's fully capable of withstanding MD's quirky weather. I live in Montgomery County, but I don't imagine the overall climate varies much from yours.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 9:24PM
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nva_dad(z7 VA)

In my nearby experience (DC area), lavender, in full sun, with lots of rocks and sand, will do fine for a while but does need to be replaced after four or five years (gets run down and dies, like strawberries). Russian Sage (Perovskia) has much of the same visual aspect, is utterly carefree, and will spread a bit on its own too. Not good for sachets, tho, a big negative in my kids' eyes.

I have had great luck with Cecile Brunner, growing in partial, light shade and blooming like mad; lots of different clematis too in same conditions. Other roses have just died slowly from black spot, mildew. etc.

Monarda gets mildew by late summer but draws hummingbirds, butterflies, etc. in early summer and, as long as it keeps its feet somewhat damp, is pretty carefree.

Oh, you know what I really like as an alternative to Rose of Sharon? The native perennial hibiscus-relatives, like rose mallow/swamp hibiscus (Lord and Lady Baltimore, Anne Arundel, and other obviously native cultivars -- Hibiscus x moscheutos) -- fun (as in Big, Pink, Flowers!), carefree, long lived and sometimes spread by seed; not floppy like hollyhocks, plus the deer and rabbits don't like them the way they munch up the Malva moschata. They also like damp feet, but aren't at all particular otherwise, in my experience.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2007 at 1:38PM
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Daylilies. Lots of Daylilies...

Try some annual climbers next spring - you and the neighbor can both enjoy them. I planted several varieties along the 6ft chainlink and they've done very well and the neighbors love them - and so do the hummingbirds.
I planted Morning glories, cardinal climber vine (hummers like this one best), cypress flower vine, and black-eyed susan vine, and will be planting them all again next year if they don't self-seed.

Nandina are a really great choice against that lower chain link, they will block the view of the street a bit and give you good color all year. They'll also be a good backdrop for whatever you plant in front of them.

I'd start with some annual/perennial goodies along with the roses, since they'll grow quickly and give you color while you wait for the roses.

I had good luck with the easy old standbys - marigolds - under my climbers. The new mounding petunias (can't remember the actual name right now) did VERY well as well, and looked great with the marigolds in the front garden.

Some great folk shared their yarrow with me at the spring swap, and it did very well also.

My best suggestion? Come to the swap with an empty car - if you are willing to dig a hole and plop in a plant, you really can't go wrong. Worst case? Well, either they don't make it...or they are so happy you have lots to share at the spring swap.

Are you anywhere near Bowie? I'd be happy to do a shovel tour with you, or a walking tour now and a shovel tour in the spring...and if we ask nicely I bet we could BOTH go shovel tour at Christine's... =)


    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 10:30PM
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This forum is just amazing! Thank you to all the kind souls who have offered advice and hand-me-downs (hand-me-ons?) and, if logistics permit, I will be more than happy to take advantage of the offers!

I think I need to go read up on the swap, too, although I feel terribly shy about it - I have nothing to offer except possibly some vinca minor, and I can't imagine anybody would actually want that....

In any case, THANK YOU!

And an update: here's that back fence area a few weeks on (it nearly killed me, but by gum it's a flower bed!). If you scroll up, you can see it after the first wave of weed-clearing (it was originally ENTIRELY like the brush behind the fence. Of course, the bad side of that is more ugly fence is exposed, but that's probably the lesser of the two evils!).

And now?

Those edging stones ALL came out of the holes we had to dig for our deck. Now THERE'S a story....

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 11:00PM
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